Why Verizon's email service sucks and what to do about it

The company is still stuck on POP3-based email, a huge problem for people with multiple email clients

verizon logo

I’ve covered Verizon many times in my writing career and, having once been a customer, I know first hand that the company has some huge flaws not only in how it treats customer (which is generally very poorly) but also in the products it offers. One of the longest running of these product fails has been the company’s Network Extender which I’ve written about several times in the last three years (my last piece on the device was as recent as August, this year ... it's surprising that Verizon’s PR people have never contacted me about my criticisms).

Why should it be that Verizon is comfortable with sub-par services and products (as are all of the major carriers)? I’d guess there are two reasons: They feel that their profitability is good enough to keep the shareholders happy so they aren't going do do anything other than what's working good enough and beyond that, senior management really don’t care.

If you want an example of this, consider that here and now, in 2015, if you are a Verizon customer and you decide to use the email account Verizon provides to subscribers, you can’t use an Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) client to handle your email account; all you can use is Post Office Protocol version 3 (POP3). If that seems a bit too “techie” for you, let me explain how I came to know what Verizon is using and why it matters …

A friend called me the other day to ask how come messages that were deleted on his wife’s iPhone still appeared on her laptop. It turned out they are Verizon customers and had been using their Verizon email account for some time and this oddity had always bugged them. After a bit of digging, I figured out what was going on: Because Verizon only supports POP3, unless the devices retrieving email perform a delete on retrieval (usually set in the client configuration with a toggle labeled something like "leave a copy of each message on server”), messages downloaded on one device will also be downloadable on another device and the status of the messages according to any device will not be visible to any other devices. On the other hand, if "leave a copy of each message on server” isn't enabled, then each of the devices will download some but not all of the incoming mail and no two devices will have all of the messages.

The reason for the problem my friend was seeing is that each of their mail clients were using POP3 and "leave a copy of each message on server” was enabled in both client configurations, This meant that each client noted the last message it downloaded which allows the client to begin downloading from, what is to it, the next new message on the next retrieval. Now, because the other clients don’t share this client’s “high water” mark, they’ll download messages starting from what they know to be their own high water mark. But even more importantly, messages that get read, replied to, forward, deleted and so on only do so in local storage. As a result the status of messages isn’t communicated between clients, so every client's idea of what's been read, replied to, forward, deleted and so on will be completely different.

Without understanding how this works, it’s confusing for users because as far as they’re concerned, when they’re out and about and they delete, say, message X on their iPhone, they think it's gone. Then they go home and fire up their laptop, open their email client and, much to their annoyance, message X is apparently back from the dead. 

The answer is to use mail servers and clients that support IMAP, a protocol that allows for much more sophisticated handling of messages on a mail server than POP3 does. For example, when you delete a message using an IMAP-enabled client, the message is deleted from both local message storage and the server so when another client synchronizes with the server it will update all of the local messages to match their status on the server. The same applies when a message is read, replied to, forwarded, and so on.

Now, given that most people these days not only have desktops, they also have laptops and smartphones as well and they switch between all of these devices, they need to have a single, shared view of their email no matter which platform they’re on and you can’t do that with a POP3 server. But does Verizon offer IMAP? No, they do not

So, if you’re a Verizon customer using Verizon email, what can you do? Simple, use another provider and have Verizon send all email they receive to your new service. Verizon explains how to forward your Verizon account.

gmail logo Wikimedia

Which email service provider should you use? I’m a fan of Google’s Gmail because it’s free, has some of the best spam filtering you can get, and provides “15GB of free storage to share across Google Drive, Gmail, and Google Photos” which is more than enough for most people’s entire historical email. If you’re a Microsoft Outlook fan and like spending money, then you could use Office 365 instead.

office 365 logo Wikimedia

I explained all of this to my friend and he pointed out that he’d be receiving messages as myfriend@verizon.com and asked who the message would then appear to come from if he was using another service. The answer is that most mainstream email clients  allow you to configure who you “send as” (if you configure it to do so, Gmail will automatically reply from whichever address you received a message on).

My suggestion was that if he thought he wanted to eventually abandon his Verizon account, then he should configure Outlook to append a signature to all replies saying something like “Please note, my email address is changing to myfriend@gmail.com, please update your records as myfriend@verizon.com will eventually stop working.” Much the same applies if he were to go with Gmail.

So, there you are; that’s how to leave Verizon’s antiquated services. If you’ve got comments or suggestion that might also help suffering Verizon users, please let me know at feedback@gibbs.com or in the comments below.

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